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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

ViacomCBS International Studios

Programming Profile

VIS caters to new demand for fresh content

26-01-2021

The pandemic has seen a spike in demand for ViacomCBS International Studios content, according to senior VP Lauren Marriott, who outlines her playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings this week.

 

ViacomCBS International Studios (VIS), a division of ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI), was launched in 2018 as a studio serving third parties and the parent company’s own brands and channels.

 

Viacom International Studios Distribution acts as distributor for VIS, the studio’s production arm with bases in Latin America, Europe and the UK, as well as VIS Kids and Brazilian comedy indie and web streamer Porta Dos Fundos. It also distributes content from VCNI’s kids brand Nickelodeon, youth skewing net MTV, Comedy Central, BET, UK terrestrial broadcaster Channel 5 and Argentina’s Telefe.

 

Early last year, VCNI added an extra brand to its portfolio by acquiring Israeli pay TV channel provider and prodco Ananey Communications Group.

 

Marriott
Lauren Marriott,
Viacom International Studios

VIS’s presence in international markets has proved beneficial to the company during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Lauren Marriott, senior VP of sales and business operations. She explains that the business has experienced increased demand for non-English-language dramas from buyers needing to fill gaps in their schedules created by Covid-related production delays.

 

“One of the interesting things we’ve seen is a boom in interest in scripted content – not the traditional scripted content you’d expect from the US, but international and non-English-language dramas. This has been really great for us because that’s the space we’re in, with our extensive slate of content from Lat Am and Israel,” Marriott says.

 

R
R

“Maybe that’s happened because, number one, the streamers have made it more acceptable for English-speaking audiences to watch subtitles; and number two, there’s less supply coming from the US, so people have had to look elsewhere and into other markets to find new content.”

 

With that in mind, VIS is including five foreign-language titles in its playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings this week, starting with Spanish-language dramedy R.

 

Coming from Telefe, R tells the story of a middle-aged man who is diagnosed with a terminal illness that will end his life in a matter of months. Free from all pressures, he decides to throw his life overboard and ends up killing a powerful mobster, only to find out that his diagnosis was a mistake and the result of a spelling mistake in his name.

 

Backdoor
Backdoor

The second Spanish-language series is Porta dos Fundos’s comedy format Backdoor. Adapted from the Portuguese-language original in Brazil for the Spanish speakers of Mexico, Backdoor features short sketches that showcase different social situations in satirical, over-the-top and comical ways.

 

VIS’s playlist also includes three scripted teen series from Ananey, each of which are available as finished tape in Hebrew. The first show, The Hood, centres on the struggles of a low-income family living on a social housing estate in the middle of one of the richest districts in Israel.

 

Rising, meanwhile, is an adventure series set in 1946, two years before the State of Israel was founded. A seemingly innocent training farm secretly functions as a special forces training base and recruitment centre for exceptional teens, as well as a home base for illegal immigration missions and special ops against the British mandate.

 

Greenhouse Academy
Greenhouse Academy

The third scripted teen series from Ananey is Greenhouse Academy, which follows two siblings who enrol at a private boarding school for gifted future leaders following the death of their astronaut mother in a rocket explosion. An English-language version has been commissioned by Netflix for four seasons.

 

Also from Ananey, but within the unscripted space, is competition format My Trip is Better, in which five strangers who love to travel, but otherwise have little in common, will meet for the first time in a foreign city to spend five days sightseeing. They each take turns to act as tour guide for the day, having full control of the itinerary and everyone’s entertainment – or frustration.

 

This unscripted format caters to another trend in demand that Marriott has seen during the pandemic, for escapist and humorous content “that makes people laugh and makes people feel like they can escape or feel like they are in a far-flung place.”

 

Guessable
Guessable

“There has definitely been an uptick in people looking for more escapist content, and a lot of our catalogue lends itself well to escapism. Our reality formats have done really, really well this year in terms of local adaptations; we’ve had several different shows adapted in Germany among others,” the exec continues.

 

“The other thing we’ve noticed is more demand for comedy. One of the titles we launched this year on Comedy Central UK was gameshow Guessable, which is hosted by comedian Sara Pascoe and was produced under Covid safety guidelines. That has had a couple of option deals as a format already.”

 

Guessable, which also features on VIS’s playlist, is a play-along comedy gameshow featuring two teams of comedians and celebrities battling it out to guess what is inside a mystery box. Each round is a twist on a classic family guessing game and the answers from each round are clues as to what is hidden in the box.

 

The Story of Songs
The Story of Songs

Elsewhere in unscripted, VIS is featuring one factual and one factual entertainment programme in its playlist. The fact ent series, The Story of Songs, was produced for Channel 5 in the UK and Reelz in the US and explores the stories behind music legends and their most iconic songs. Each episode focuses on a different artist, from Aretha Franklin to Metallica. According to Marriott, the series has been sold into 11 major territories and is one of VIS’s most successful factual shows of all time.

 

The factual show, meanwhile, is Channel 5’s one-off doc Diana: In Her Own Words, which features rarely seen footage and testimonies from those who knew the late Princess of Wales best. In line with the demand for escapist content, Marriott says VIS has also seen “huge demand” for documentaries on the British royal family.

 

Completing VIS’s playlist are three children- and family-oriented shows. With channels like Nickelodeon and Nick Jr in its portfolio, VCNI has a big presence in the kids’ space, allowing VIS Distribution to benefit from strong demand for children’s programming during the pandemic.

 

Santiago of the Seas
Santiago of the Seas

The first of the three kids’ shows featured in the VIS playlist is Nick Jr’s preschool animation Santiago of the Seas, a fantastical pirate adventure with exciting and altruistic missions rooted in Caribbean culture.

 

Introducing children to the Spanish language, the series also caters to the demand for educational content while kids are home from school. The debut of Nickelodeon’s animated series Santiago of the Seas garnered the biggest L+3 lift the network has ever had for a preschool launch in the US, according to Marriott, who hopes it will become the new Dora the Explorer.

 

Santiago of the Seas is joined by Nickelodeon’s live-action series Noobees. Filmed in Colombia, Noobees follows a young girl who creates her own eSports team to compete to win the Professional League of Video Games and help her brother’s dream come true.

 

Most Musical Family
Most Musical Family

The final series is Nickelodeon’s kids’ and family competition format America’s Most Musical Family, which sees 30 families compete by taking to the stage and performing for a panel of judges.

 

According to Marriott, most of the series on the studio’s playlist would be suitable for both linear networks and VoD platforms, although she thinks Ananey’s teen series The Hood and Rising would particularly suit a streaming model due to their “bingeable” nature.

 

“Our catalogue spans so many genres – kids, drama, entertainment, factual, comedy, young adult – and we’ve tried to pick something from each of those genres. We’ve also included some content from our different-language studios, so our playlist has a really broad selection across all those different genres,” she says.